Caste, gender, religion and more: The multiple layers in Tamil Prabha’s ‘Pettai’

Jagadeesh Tamilselvan 20 Jul 2021 45

Tamil Prabha is the co-writer of Pa Ranjith’s soon to be released film ‘Sarpatta Parambarai’...

For those of us who devoured feminism in colleges, it is almost impossible to escape the gender of the male creator while consuming their media. A slight discomfort persists in the back of our minds even while we laugh, cry and rage with the characters. However, while reading Tamil Prabha’s Pettai (Kalachuvadu, 2017), the gender of the author, a man, slipped my mind at times. Tamil Prabha is in the news now for being the co-writer of Pa Ranjith’s Sarpatta Parambarai which will release on Amazon Prime Video on June 22. However, he’s already a name to reckon with in the Tamil literary world.

Pettai is widely known among specific Tamil audiences (one needs to only check its Facebook page) for its use of Madras slang and foregrounding Dalit male subjectivities in its various forms and their exploration of Christianity in Chintadripet. Pettai begins almost three centuries back in 1735, with a narration on how Chintadripet was conceived as was the city of Madras and how it came to be. Here, I want to draw attention to the women characters, an aspect which is seldom discussed while this novel is analysed. All of them have inner lives. What is most impressive is the author’s restraint while writing them. Male writers, however gifted and ‘progressive’ they are, tend to include women but always police their behaviour in the name of intellectual explanations. Tamil Prabha did not. He just let them be.

Dalit women from different backgrounds such as an urban housing board setting, rural context, migrating from village to urban context, and university spaces face caste and misogyny but their struggles or resilience might not be similar. Pettai is impressive precisely because the author restrained himself from comparing these women and giving out a certificate of resilience.



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